Extended Producer Responsibility and Cities

Project Overview

Among their functions, cities are an important locus for the production, consumption and disposal of products. Traditionally, manufacturers bear the responsibility for the impacts of making products, consumers for the usage-related consequences and local government bear the responsibility for the waste that results when products are discarded. This is changing. In Europe, Japan and in some other countries and jurisdictions, producers are increasingly being required to extend their responsibilities to encompass end-of-life (EOL) management. This policy strategy, known as extended producer responsibility (EPR), takes its most conspicuous form when producers must “take-back” products when they are discarded. In the European Union, the EOL management of computers, consumer electronics and, eventually, anything with a power cord, is now the responsibility of producers under the Waste Electronics and Electrical Equipment (WEEE) Directive.

Cities have played an important role in the emergence of EPR. They find the management of wastes, such as computers that are increasingly drawing the attention of the public and policymakers, to be very expensive. In response to the requirements for special handling and the costs that go with those requirements, the local governments have looked to new policy strategies both to lower the cost of managing these wastes (e.g., design for recycling) and to shift the costs to other entities (e.g., industry take-back). Thus, cities, through organizations such as the U.S. Conference of Mayors, have been strong proponents of EPR.

This research project delineates the conceptual rationale for the adoption of EPR by local governments and the potential strengths and weaknesses of using this policy strategy at this jurisdictional level.  The rationale and the expected advantages and disadvantages are being tested in case studies of 2 cities that have or propose to employ EPR: Columbia, Missouri (bottle bill), Ottawa, Canada (retailer take-back for household hazardous wastes) and New York (waste electronics). The adoption of EPR by cities is assessed both in terms of policy outcomes and with respect to its legal tractability.  In particular, the implications of EPR at the city level is examined in detail with respect to trade law and the dormant commerce clause and with respect to its implications for notions of regulatory competition.

Reid Lifset leads this project and works with with Prof. Harri Kalimo, a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute for European Studies at Vrije Universiteit Brussel (VUB).